Modernizing Uzbekistan’s Water Sector with Citizen Engagement
Uzbekistan has made substantial investments in upgrading its water supply and sanitation (WSS) services over the past decade, amassing the largest public borrowing portfolio for WSS projects of any country in Central Asia. Despite such progress, the country’s citizens continue to face challenges in accessing clean and reliable water services. For instance, the households of more than half the population (roughly 31 million people) remain unconnected to a piped water system.
A recent World Bank study, Social Impact Analysis of Water Supply and Sanitation Services in Central Asia: the Case of Uzbekistan, aims to assist the Uzbekistan government and WSS service providers in designing policies to improve the water sector – by providing information on consumer experiences and readiness for reform in Uzbekistan. Statistics about access to WSS services tell us little about the quality of those services, and reliable evidence on the continuity of service, water quality and accountability of service providers is scarce in Uzbekistan. The study, therefore, builds upon this evidence base with much-needed citizen feedback and stakeholder views on WSS modernization needs.
In 2014, a team of Uzbekistan-based World Bank researchers conducted 17 focus group discussions with consumers, 19 in-depth interviews with government and WSS utility firm officials, and 10 household case studies across Uzbekistan. Comments and feedback by Uzbek citizens who participated in the focus group discussions are included in the study.
A formal survey of 300 randomly selected households was also conducted. Data was gathered in Tashkent and three geographically contrasting regions: Karakalpakstan in the west, Jizzak in the south, and Fergana in the east. Within these regions, 30 households were selected in each of three different location types: the center of theoblast (province); the center of the raion (district); and rural areas.
On 26 January, 2016, the findings of the study and its policy recommendations were discussed at an event in Tashkent by stakeholders including representatives from the Uzbekistan Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Economy, the Tashkent Vodokanal(water utility firm), and the Center for Economic Research and the Institute for Social Studies. The Swiss Agency for Development Cooperation (SDC) – a donor to the Central Asia Energy-Water Development Program (CAEWDP), which funded the study – was also represented at the event, along with other World Bank development partners such as the Asian Development Bank and the European Union.
"I believe this is a very useful report. It is always interesting to listen to consumers, and the problems are there. Lack of data is a real issue for us; our customer databases are incomplete. But let’s not forget that the government is making substantial investments in the WSS sector. Cost recovery is key. But that requires reducing system losses and increasing the accountability of water utility providers for the amount of water that is supplied. I believe that raising the drinking water tariffs will not be a good idea unless we substantially improve service delivery and the transparency of service providers, so that we can justify those higher tariffs. Resolution 306, which decentralizes WSS management decisions to the regions, is an important step towards institutional reform needed for better performance of the sector."
Ms. Sadjida Rustemova
Uzbekistan Ministry of Finance
Key findings from the study:
· Surveyed households in Tashkent mostly experience good quality drinking water and sanitation services, but nearly all households outside Tashkent experience an intermittent supply of water (if connected to a centralized piped water network).
· Many households outside Tashkent who participated in the study used multiple sources of water, including outside taps and water pumps in the yard, and public standpipes.
· Surveyed low-income households often have no choice but to use unhygienic open sources of water, such as irrigation canals and rivers or ponds, which can take more than half a day to collect in some areas.
Photo: World Bank
Surveyed households in Tashkent mostly experience good quality drinking water and sanitation services, but nearly all households outside Tashkent experience an intermittent supply of water.
· More than half of surveyed households with taps inside their property that are connected to a water network reported water quality problems, specifically turbidity and high salinity levels.
· Only one quarter of all surveyed households had access to a centralized sewerage system, and no surveyed households in the raion centers and rural areas were connected to such a system.
· Water utility officials indicated that the Vodokanals (water utility firms) often have severe debts and cannot even afford basic operating expenses for delivering their services, partly due to low tariffs and system inefficiencies.
· When all costs to meet a household’s drinking water and sanitation needs are added up, households not connected to a piped water supply network system often spend more than twice as much as those that are connected to such a network. This does not include non-monetary costs.
· Surveyed households that have a water meter pay less than those that pay a fixed amount per month, based on family size. Focus group discussions suggest that many households believe that meters will provide incentives for Vodokanals to deliver water to households, as they will only be able to bill households for the actual amount of water delivered.
· Many households in the sample, not connected to a piped network, reported that they were willing to pay double the current tariff provided they received good quality piped water in sufficient amounts 24 hours a day.
The study’s quantitative findings are intended to be approximate, as the survey sample size was relatively small. The authors suggest, therefore, to conduct a more comprehensive and representative household survey in order to confirm the findings. It is also recommended that the Government of Uzbekistan regularly conduct a nationally representative household expenditure survey that includes detailed questions on the quality of current utility service conditions and on the costs that households incur for meeting their WSS needs.
"Studies like this can really add value in countries like Uzbekistan and other Central Asian countries, where collecting feedback and other data from citizens on utility service performance is not common practice. It builds trust, injects a sense of reality in WSS reform plans and broadens the debate. Understanding consumer experiences and perceptions is essential for coming up with sensible plans and policy reform measures. "
World Bank Senior Social Development Specialist and lead author of the study.